Are you the central character Roland Cauldron?
"I was when I started writing the book but not at the end. Roland had morphed in to something else and had become a person in his own right. I got to a point, probably after the first draft, where I could see Roland in opposition to myself; he had become objectified. Instead of thinking what would I do if I was in such and such a situation, I started thinking, what would Roland do?"
Is it a true story?
"Well, fact is always stranger than fiction! There are some truths, in the sense that I have drawn on experience. However, it is not autobiographical or semi-autobiographical; I stuck to the craft of fiction, conformed (to the best of my ability) to the rules of narrative, plotline and character. Hopefully, this moves you away from the personal to the universal."
Why did you set it in the 1980s?
"I had to, there was no other choice, if the novel was to sound authentic, it needed to reflect the experience I was drawing on. Beyond that, there were more general ideas, mainly around the notion it was a neglected period and a time when the political and economic landscape changed. The institution, the mental hospital where the novel is set in, provided a perfect analogy for the shift from the one consensus to the new consensus, one which we live with today."
There is a strong political theme in your novel, with the young characters and your central character strongly opposed to 'system'. But what have you got against authority and capitalism?
"That's a long story. Zombie Park is the first book in a Quartet, so I have three more books to explore the themes of authority and capitalism. My preference is to tread carefully in fictional terms, because there is a real and present danger of drifting in to the didactic, rather than letting your characters speak and allowing the reader to make their own conclusions. But the short answer is, I have always struggled with authority, but I have tried my best to adapt. In Zombie Park, the character Terry says of Roland Cauldron, 'you can only be angry for so long'; which means I have calmed down a little, at least to avoid the obvious pitfalls! As for capitalism, all I will say for now is it is a contradictory system: on the one hand it revolutionises people's lives, it is a restless beast, turning everything upside down when you least expect it; but that creates the dynamics for its own demise. Therefore, it is always a good idea to think about what might replace it when all else fails!"
What do you think about today's mental health services?
"My direct experience of the mental health system goes back to the days of institutional care. Since then, I have not been directly involved in mental health. However, I support the need for greater investment, more resources and a better understanding of the difficulties people have with coping and hopefully overcoming mental illness. The book is dedicated to the patients, whoever they maybe because few people are exempt from the problem of mental health, as many of us go about surviving through different means. My own view on mental health services is best summed up by the character Morten Slaney, the Interim Chief Executive, when describing the future: 'We will end up with fragmented institutions of barbarity and a substantial increase in acronyms. So, we will then be able to say we have created lots of FIBs'."
How easy has it been to publish your book?
"These things are never easy but I had a well thought out plan. I knew, once I had been through the ritual of rejection by literary agent gatekeepers, how I was going to get from A to B. The book market has changed, so writers like me now have a voice; we can now publish, rather than be left to despair at our labours from ever seeing the light of day. Fortunately, the internet, social media and other approaches to retailing, have had a democratising effect. But there are still significant problems and I support the principles of the Alliance of Independent Authors for a democratisation of writing and publishing. For authors like me, the issues are not so much around quality of product (as supporters of the traditional market would have you believe), but access to the market, getting people to know a book exists and is worth a reader's time and money. This is where all independent creative productions have their difficulties and where our voices continue to be stifled. This is also something I explore in the second novel: The Road to Praxis."
There are so many messages and themes in Zombie Park, but what was your primary message you wanted to get across to the reader?
"Perhaps there are too many themes and messages because I wanted to pack so much in! I suppose I always had in the back of my mind this image of me, the author, providing advice and guidance to the younger generation: that it's alright to think things are wrong, that it's a good thing to try and change things for the better; don't worry if you don't get things right because you and the agencies of change are far from perfect. And once you have been through the mill, feel thoroughly disillusioned with everything, you have no choice, but to get back up again and have another go!"
Zombie Park took me on a journey on lots of different levels. Following the main character Roland Cauldron as he struggles with the injustices and inequities he sees around him, the story describes his passage of first love and his fight against authoritarianism in the mental hospital where he's training as a student nurse. The characters and plot combine to form ever so funny passages, cringworthy moments, challenging topics, shocking moments and covers very thought provoking political and social issues. Having had a background in health, I could reasonant a lot with this novel and although I wished a lot of it wasn't true, I know most of it probably was - which in some ways made it funnier, bit also more disturbing at the same time.
by Christine Marrow
Simon Marlowe is a writer who portrays characters who have been tipped over the edge and strive to find their way out of a labyrinth of ever decreasing circles. His stories make us wonder what we would do if we found ourselves in similar situations, perhaps cut-off from the real world, enclosed in a less tangible one which is nonetheless frighteningly real. Convincingly portrayed, gritty and surreal, there is a preoccupation with the dark and disturbing. He exploits the parameters of the psychological thriller, challenging the reader to accept the writer's intensity as a necessary step to understand what people can do to themselves and others. Not afraid to be explicit, the stories are blackly comic at times, superbly crafted tales of fear and doubt, thwarted ambition and aspiration.